How to Respectfully Disagree with Your Boss

Nobody likes conflict, but it’s particularly unpleasant when you have a disagreement with your higher-up. Expressing dissent to your boss can create a delicate situation, but it’s not impossible to navigate. Here are a few tips to make sure things go smoothly: 

Communicate with respect

Regardless of the area of disagreement, it is important that you disagree respectfully. The art of polite dissent is something that most of us should master outside the office, but there may be serious consequences if you fail to respectfully disagree with your boss. You could permanently damage the mentorship or, in extreme cases, the disagreement could result in suspension or termination.

We all have moments when we are certain that our opinion is best. When you disagree with someone wholeheartedly, it’s common to speak to the person in a condescending manner. But you have to address your supervisors in a respectful tone.

To avoid speaking down to your manager, use “I” statements as often as possible instead of speaking in an accusatory manner. For instance, instead of saying “you’re making a mistake by doing xyz,” you should say, “I think it might be better if we try xyz.” When you use “I” statements, your assertions will sound less combative. It also demonstrates a willingness to take responsibility for your thoughts and opinions.

Demonstrate how your view could benefit the company

There are ways to express your disagreement without centering yourself. If you enter a disagreement with selfish motivations, it will only worsen the problem and reduce the chances that your suggestion will be approved. Instead of discussing how something will be detrimental to you, demonstrate how your point of view could benefit the organization in the long run.

For instance, if you’re frustrated with the way your boss delegated the workload for a new project, don’t complain about how your work capacity is unfair. Instead, explain to your boss how an even distribution of responsibilities would result in a better-quality product. If you can, show proof of how your suggestion could impact the big picture. Draft a short report and pull up some statistics that demonstrate the potential benefits of your suggestion. Chances are, your boss will do whatever is best for the organization in the end.

Don’t go over their head

If you are confident in your opinion, you probably want to speed up the process to get your suggestion approved as soon as possible. For instance, if your boss has to go through a few other higher ups, you may be tempted to head straight to the CEO with your dissenting opinion. But in most cases, going over your boss’s head should be a last resort.

You might go to your boss’s supervisor with the best intentions. Maybe you think they would be a great mediator in the midst of disagreement or perhaps you think you’d both benefit from a more senior opinion. Regardless of intent, going over your boss’s head often implies that you don’t trust their judgment or respect their standing as your supervisor. On the other hand, putting in the time and effort to work through the disagreement with your boss first will show professionalism and respect.

There are a few instances where it might be necessary over your supervisor’s head. If your boss is doing something illegal or harassing another employee, it’s probably best to take the issue to human resources or your boss’s manager. However, for less serious disagreements it’s worth it to put in the time and effort to explain your side to your boss thoroughly and thoughtfully.

Respect their decision

When all is said and done, it is likely that your boss will make the final decision and you will have to accept it. Even if you make a near-perfect argument, your manager may not agree with you and that’s ok.

It’s not easy to walk away when you feel confident in your opinion, but if you had a chance to express your viewpoint thoroughly and your boss still says no, it is probably time to move on. Continuing to push for a yes will not increase the chances that your boss will agree with you. In fact, it might make you seem aggressive and childish.

Whether it’s because of experience or seniority, they are your boss for a reason and in most instances, you should trust that they will make the best final decision. As long as you work under someone else, you will have to learn to receive rejection gracefully and demonstrate that you can move on quickly when your ideas aren’t accepted.

For more reading about millennials in public service, check out this weekly GovLoop series, First 5: Advice from millennial to millennial.

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Profile Photo Steph Drahozal

I wholeheartedly agree with using “I” statements constantly. They sound so much less accusatory and show how it affects you personally.

Also agreed that going over your boss’s head is never a good idea (except in the case of harassment, etc.). It’ll always come back to bite you when your manager thinks you don’t trust or respect them.

These are some really helpful tips. Thanks!